VenueBook Grabs $2M, Wants To Be the OpenTable for Booking Events

7/31/14Follow @jpruth

Reserving a spot for dinner is easy these days, thanks to apps and websites, but booking the right spot to host an event can still take a fair amount of legwork.

VenueBook, a New York-based startup, believes it can change that, particularly at so-called middle-tier locations, says Kelsey Recht, CEO and founder. Her cloud-based software gives venue managers a place to list details about their locations, and lets event planners request price quotes, see photos, and complete contracts online. “If you can view [a contract], accept it, and put your credit card down on your mobile phone, you’re going to book that much faster,” she says.

The idea for VenueBook, Recht says, is to have the simplicity of consumer websites for planning travel or dinner, but with a more corporate focus. “It’s very easy to book an airline ticket or hotel online,” she says. “You need a system to power the venue and the booking process.”

This month, VenueBook announced it closed on $2 million in seed funding from angel investor Joanne Wilson, I2BF Global Ventures, the Cayuga Venture Fund, MI Ventures, Kindler Capital, and individual investor Victoria Grace. Recht says Wilson, an early backer of VenueBook, has been especially helpful because of her connections with the local hospitality scene. “She felt a platform like this needed to be built,” Recht says. “Joanne is very involved in the restaurant world here in New York.”

And that is part of the market VenueBook is after. “We focus on medium-tier venues,” Recht says. Such locations are independently operated or a restaurant that has a mixed-use space that can accommodate events. She says the staff at such venues often use Google Docs or other systems they put together piecemeal to handle bookings. “Their processes are very inefficient,” Recht says. “They don’t get back to people as quickly as they’d like.”

Further, the job of finding a place for an event, she says, is falling more and more to administrative assistants, human resources staff, or others who do not have the expertise of full-time planners. Venue managers and event planners can communicate on VenueBook’s collaborative platform, which Recht says sets her company apart in this sector. She says the events industry has thus far been slow to adopt new technology to streamline the typical back-and-forth of emails and calls to book a site.

VenueBook was founded in 2010, and the company currently has a staff of 10. With the latest funding, Recht says the company wants to hire developers and more sales and marketing staff. The company recently expanded with a salesperson in Washington, DC, and Recht expects VenueBook to grow to 12 employees by year’s end.

Event planning may be ripe for digitization and automation, but it is not an easy space to build a startup. For instance, Venuetastic, an alum of Y Combinator, had a similar idea—yet quietly shut down. Meanwhile, McLean, VA-based Cvent, a large player in this market, offers event management software and booking services to a network of more than 218,000 hotels, as well as other event venues. Recht says she is not going after large hotel chains or big conglomerates, preferring to stick to mid-tier venues. “Events at unique or smaller places are just as hard to plan as a conference at Hilton hotels,” she says.

Recht says that prior to VenueBook, she handled certain event planning duties while serving as director of finance for a small nonprofit in Chicago. She believed there had to be a better way to handle the process.

After moving to New York, she founded VenueBook. In 2011, she brought on Jonathan Katz, who was an early developer at Paperless Post, as chief technology officer. She also tapped Aimee Bender, who was director of events with BLT American Brasserie, first as an advisor and then to work on operations and client relations. Recht says the company drew some inspiration from the manual systems Bender put together at her prior job. “VenueBook is almost an extension of what she had to build,” Recht says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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